Jeopardy Boss Reveals Big Changes Being Made For Season 40 While Strikes Continue

 Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik back to back for Jeopardy!
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Just about all aspects of the TV world have been thrown into a blender thanks to the WGA writers strike and SAG-AFTRA actors strike, from network fall schedules to future-season plans and beyond. The stoppage doesn’t affect just scripted fictional series, as Jeopardy! is one of the most popular projects outside of primetime that would necessarily need to undergo some changes in order to bring the upcoming Season 40 to viewers in a timely fashion. And after much speculation among fans, executive producer Michael Davies has officially revealed the newly adjusted way things will play out when the game show returns.

What Jeopardy’s Original Season 40 Plan Was

In the latest podcast episode of Inside Jeopardy, host Sarah Foss introduced quite a few big reveals from the game show's head honcho (ahead of a fun conversation with mega-champ Mattea Roach), and he felt it was important to lay out exactly what he and the rest of the creative team were planning for the new season, had there not been any strikes keeping the writers from work.

So the original plan for Season 40 was, we were going to extend the postseason, and in fact, we were going to kick off the entire season with postseason episodes, about 10 1/2 weeks. We would go into a second chance for Season 39. We would go into a champions wild card tournament for Season 39, which we’ve already discussed, and then into a TOC. And at the end of that postseason, we were going to go back into regular Jeopardy to the extent that any episode of Jeopardy is regular, with the only exceptions are the Jeopardy Invitational Tournament that we were going to run probably in February. And in May, we were going to make High School or College Jeopardy.

Davies explained his reasoning behind putting "regular" episodes between two pockets of post-season tournaments and specials, comparing it to traditional sports seasons, and wanting to stand apart from that particular build-up format. But even though some of those ideas will still be in play for the upcoming eps, several tweaks had to be made to speak to the fact that the writers have been out for months, and there are only a certain number of "new" clues for the show to use.

What's Changing For Jeopardy's 40th Season

The first detail change that Michael Davies revealed isn't about the gameplay itself, but the financial takeaway awarded to each episode's non-winners. Both the second and third place contestants will be walking away with more money now than they have in seasons past. That change was stemmed in part by complaints past hopefuls have voiced about the show's production not paying for players' travel. According to Davies:

We are increasing the second and third place prize amounts by $1,000 each. So the third place price will move up to $2,000, the second place prize will move up to $3,000. . . . We understand the post COVID travel costs have increased.We understand how complicated sort of funding a trip to Jeopardy is for, you know, many contestants within our community. And we think this is way about time that we did this.

That's a solid change, especially for brainiacs in parts of the country/continent that make traveling to L.A. on par with a steep mortgage payment. Granted, they'll still have to book everything themselves, but now at least some of that travel money is technically built into the "winnings" received.

And now here's how Season 40 will play out, at least until the point when the writers are able to work again.

I knew immediately that I wanted to postpone that [postseason] to a point when our writers will have returned and be able to write the original material that that tournament deserves. . . . I also believe principally that it would not be fair to have new contestants, making their first appearance on the Alex Trebek stage, doing it with non original material or, as we'll talk about, a combination of non original material and material that was written pre-strike. And so we decided that really we needed to invite back, and give a second chance in general, to players who probably thought that their chance to come back and play on the Alex Trebek stage had gone forever. So we're going to open the season with a second chance tournament for players from Season 37 who lost their initial game, and winners from that will advance to a Season 37 and Season 38 Champions Wild card.

So until something changes, Season 40 will feature a smorgasbord of past contestants via Second Chance games, which will utilize a combination of previously written clues that pre-date the WGA strike and clues that have been used on the show before. It was made clear that a wide net is being put out for the repeat clues, which will come from multiple past seasons.

Since the Season 38 Second Chance group is the one that started it all, the producers will be looking back to those not just from Season 37, but also earlier years, to find the next crop of smarties seeking redemption.

How Does This Affect Celebrity Jeopardy?

Because Celebrity Jeopardy! and the game show's standard version aren't handled in the exact same fashion, everything is apparently already set in stone for the star-filled second season, which is set to return to primetime at the end of September. Here's how Davies put it:

Now when it comes to Celebrity Jeopardy, that's a very different situation because fortunately Celebrity Jeopardy was entirely written under the WGA contract before the strike was called.So that material has been organized by our research team and applied to the shows and that is all original fresh material.

The EP confirmed that the staff is working behind the scenes to secure the talent that will put their brains to the test in Season 2. Hopefully SAG-AFTRA technicalities won't stop anyone from the acting community from being involved, though the game show is just as quick to bring authors, hosts, sports athletes and other famous folks into the competition.

It's also worth noting that Michael Davies started the podcast off with nothing but support, graciousness and kind words for the Jeopardy! writing staff, as well as everyone else who's still allowed to continue busting ass behind the scenes to bring everyone's favorite trivia competition back to TV in a way that would make Alex Trebek proud.

Stay tuned for more info on when Season 40 will arrive, and head to our 2023 TV premiere schedule to see what else is hitting the small screen soon.